“Shark Bait” (*** OUT OF ****) lives up to its alluring title. British producer & director James Nunn’s aquatic opus qualifies as one of the best shark survival entries since Jaume Collet-Serra’s “The Shallows” (2016) with Blake Lively. Spellbinding great white shark attack movies that came to mind while I watched “Shark Bait” were “Jaws” (1975), The Reef” (2010),

“Bait” (2012), “47 Meters Down” (2017), and “47 Meters Down: Uncaged” (2019). Literally, these briny yarns depict humans as quarry for the spawn of the sea. A vibrant cast of newcomers–among them Holly Earl, Jack Trueman, Catherine Hannay, Malachi Pullar-Latchman, and Thomas Flynn–are the provender for “Shark Bait.”

This ill-fated quintet of drunken Kansas college seniors are celebrating their last spring break at a Mexican resort when they ‘borrow’ two unattended jet skis and rampage off on an exhilarating joyride. Since they didn’t rent the jet skis, nobody knows anything about them or their whereabouts.

This stunt backfires on them with a vengeance. Meantime, our attractive quintet aren’t prepared for what lurks beneath the blue.

It’s almost as if the shark punishes them for their larceny. So absorbed are they in their escapades that they never realize they’ve gone out too far. Moreover, they aggravate matters when they play an ill-advised game of chicken.

They race their wet bikes headlong at each other until somebody chickens out and swerves to avoid a collision. The second time around they aren’t so lucky. Smashing into each other, they trash one jet ski, and a rider is injured. Not only is his leg broken, but he has a compound fracture!

Predictably, blood clouds the water. All of this occurs during the first quarter hour of Nunn’s white-knuckled, 84-minute epic, and the tension rarely slackens until fadeout.

“Shark Bait” carbon copies Steven Spielberg’s classic “Jaws” on a smaller but no less suspenseful scale. The film unfolds with ominous underwater photography as “Tower Block” lenser Ben Moulden’s camera prowls the ocean depths.

At a noisy resort, our unruly protagonists share a bottle of tequila. After draining it, they put the bottle on the ground and spin it to see who’ll buy the next. Our heroine, Natalie (Holly Earl of “Queen of the Desert”), loses and heads off to replace it.

Along the way, she encounters a woebegone beggar. This old geezer (Manuel Cauchi of “Troy”) has no legs below his mutilated knees and trundles around in a wheelchair. As if to foreshadow the fate which awaits our quintet, the beggar mutters to Natalie in his gravelly voice the words “Gran Tiburon Blanco.”

Of course, he means a great white shark. Presumably, one lunched on his legs. Natalie’s drunken cohorts come searching for her, and they resume their binge drinking. At dawn, the guys discover two jet skis moored at a dock.

Breaking into a nearby hut, another guy seizes the jet ski keys. Natalie frowns in disapproval but refuses to be left behind. Ultimately, nobody comes out of “Shark Bait” unscathed once the great white intercepts them. Our protagonists pile atop the one remaining jet ski while the shark cruises in circles.

When the man-eater strikes, the filmmakers do a seamless job of integrating actual great white shark footage with a lookalike mechanical behemoth that appears far more lifelike than the “Jaws” shark.

Sadly, the kids cannot get the engine to crank, so they’re stranded while the shark emboldens itself with each circuit. The kids spend an entire day and night before things take a turn for the worst.

Predictably, prolonged sun exposure scorches everybody lobster red, and they suffer the effects of severe dehydration since they have nothing but sea water to drink. Incredibly, none of the guys can trouble-shoot the jet ski’s stalled engine!

Wisely, producer & director James Nunn doesn’t bite off more than he can chew with this voracious shark tale. Indeed, Nunn served as the second unit director on both “47 Meters” movies, so he is acquainted with the genre’s tropes and exploits them.

Furthermore, he has helmed two crackerjack actioneers “One Shot” (2021) and “Eliminators” (2016) featuring martial arts sensation Scott Adkins. A trim, budget-conscious, $5-million thriller, “Shark Bait” relies on its small cast and single setting to generate electrifying thrills and chills.

Apart from a street cleaner (Maxime Durand of “Carmen”) who complains about the mess the kids left behind on the dock, “Shark Bait” focuses primarily on the five. Again, Nunn takes his cues from “Jaws.”

The final forty-five minutes of “Jaws” took place aboard the Orca, as three shark hunters clashed with a great white that rammed and sank their boat. Our spring breakers face a similar predicament. Nunn uses high angle, aerial drone photography to emphasize the vast isolation as the tide sweeps the kids out to sea.

The shark attack scenes with the leviathan cradling its victims in his massive jaws as it carries its prey into the depths may rattle some spectators. Altogether, “Shark Bait” emerges as a nail-biting account of man versus sea monster that should keep you on edge.

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